Sale of Westport Middle raises concerns about Midtown school capacity

Photo from DRAFT Westport High & Middle Reuse Strategy.

After hearing concerns about losing school buildings in Midtown, the Kansas City School Board last night approved the sale of Westport Middle School for redevelopment as a mixed-use project, non-profit offices, and urban gardening center. The school is one of 30 closed school sites the district is selling as part of its repurposing program.

As they considered the sale, several board members said they had heard concerns the need for schools in Midtown and the shortage of quality educational opportunities in the area.

Councilman Jim Glover urged the board before its vote to consider the renaissance of people moving back to Midtown, saying that redevelopment on Armour Boulevard and development on Union Hill has brought 3000 people back to Midtown. He said that in order to get those new residents to buy houses and to get young families to stay in Midtown, the area needs schools. He said the need for facilities that can be used as schools in the future should be part of the consideration of redevelopment proposals.

Several school board members echoed concerns about selling Midtown schools for non-educational redevelopment purposes. Jon Hile, who represents the Midtown area on the board, said the area is changing, with more families and children living here.  He said he has heard support for the Sustainable Development Partners proposal, “but I have also heard concerns that we are selling off one of our last assets in Midtown,” he said.

The board questioned the district’s chief financial officer, Al Tunis, about whether there would be enough capacity to allow Midtown families to send their children to high-quality neighborhood schools if the population of school-aged children continues to grow.

Tunis said that there are some areas where school boundaries need to be adjusted, and the district is working on a facilities master plan to address those issues.

“I believe by altering the boundaries we will be able to address Midtown and the other areas we serve,” he said.

A group of Midtown residents called the Midtown Community School Initiative has recently begun organizing residents to seek new school options.

In the end, the school board agreed to sell the school to a group called Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners, which includes Bob Berkebile, David Brain, Michael W. Knight, Butch Rigby, Louis D. Steele and E.F. Chip Walsh. The group has proposed renovating the school for a mixed-use development including market rate apartments, and commercial space to house nonprofit organizations. The grounds will be used as urban farming/gardening space.

Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners has also submitted a plan for buying the Westport High School, and previously bought the former Swinney school and is converting it to residential apartments and office space.

Bob Berkibile told the board he was excited to begin work at Westport Middle.  Berkebile has said in the past that his group was talking to several groups that are interested in developing schools in Westport High School, just across 39th Street from Westport Middle.

Closing on the sale of Westport Middle School is expected to take place before the end of the year. The school district will hold two public meetings in coordination with the Southmoreland, Old Hyde Park, and Hyde Park neighborhoods as the process moves forward.

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